FreshBox - Solar powered fresh produce storage solutions

FreshBox is a social enterprise providing reliable solar-powered refrigeration service to small-scale merchants. We keep it cool!

Photo of John Mbindyo
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I confirm that I am fully aware of the eligibility criteria, and based on its description, I am eligible to apply to the CSV Prize 2017.

  • Yes, I'm eligible

Preferred language

  • English

Organization name

FreshBox Enterprises

Year founded

2017

Initiative stage

  • Growth (the pilot has already launched and is starting to expand)

Annual budget in 2017 (USD)

  • $100k - $250k

Number of beneficiaries impacted so far

  • 500 - 1,000

Organization type

  • Social enterprise

Secondary Focus Area

  • Rural development

Headquarters location: Country

  • Kenya

Headquarters location: City

Nairobi

Location(s) of impact

Kenya, Nairobi

Website

http://www.freshbox.co.ke

Facebook URL

https://www.facebook.com/FreshBoxKe

Twitter URL

https://twitter.com/freshboxKe

Problem: What problem is this initiative trying to address?

In sub-sahara Africa, an estimated 53% of all fruits and vegetables are lost between agricultural production, post harvest handling, processing, distribution, and consumption. 80% of fruit and vegetable waste comes after the farmer has grown the fruit or vegetable and before the consumer purchases it. Post harvest handling, processing, and distribution are all areas of the food supply chain that could be improved with current, affordable technology.

Solution Summary: What is the proposed solution? What do you see as its most promising aspects for creating shared value?

FreshBox tackles food waste in a localized context by providing refrigeration as an affordable service, not product, for small-scale merchants and wholesalers.

The problem is not refrigeration technology, it is the simple fact that the economics in this market segment dictate that the capital expenditure is too high, too risky, or does not account for the seasonality of players along the supply chain. For these reasons, we are a service company, not a product company. We believe that by providing a high quality service, we can better meet the economic needs of our customers. We’ve democratized the capital expenditure across every merchant that will be served by our refrigeration services.

FreshBox is solving fruit and vegetable waste in the localized context by creating a business model that allows paying customers to affordably access refrigeration. This access will directly counter the 80% of fruit and vegetable waste that comes in between farm and consumer.

Impact: What is the impact of the work to date? Specify both the social and the environmental impact of your work

Backed with a with a successful pilot and proof of concept, we designed a simple and efficient model that would self-regulate temperature thus limiting the demand for electricity. Designed to be sourced and manufactured locally, the unit has the additional capacity to be run on solar power, significantly increasing opportunities for penetration in rural markets. Currently, FreshBox is operating its first fully-functional unit in one of the largest fruit vegetable markets in Nairobi. With a capacity for 70 crates, the approximately 16 cubic meter unit has surpassed temperature targets. Our focus is to minimize food waste by extending fresh produce shelf life, but there are cascading benefits from our company. We use solar power to run our refrigeration unit; not only is this using a clean technology to help the company save, but it also promotes clean energy in markets where there are thousands of potential solar buying customers.

Financial sustainability plan: How is this initiative financially supported? How will you ensure its financial sustainability long-term?

1. Directors capital contribution - $5,000
2. The Tony Elumelu Foundation grant - $5,000
3. Earned income - $7,000

Unique value proposition: What makes your initiative innovative? How does your project differ from other organizations working in the same field?

Mainstream business exclusively provide solutions to large grocery chains, not willing to interact with bottom of the pyramid populations that they determine to be “high risk”. Companies selling refrigeration units to rural or marginalized populations either exclude buyers with high upfront cost. At Freshbox we charge a daily/weekly/monthly subscription fee per crate of stored fresh produce.

Founding story: Share a story about the "Aha!" moment that sparked the beginning of this initiative.

John Mbindyo was buying groceries at his local store in Nairobi, when the 28-year-old IT graduate asked his vendor about fruit shelf life. The store manager said, depending on the amount of stock, the goods last about two to three days. And then, he added: “I wish we had fridges to keep them cool.”

And so the idea for FreshBox was born, a solar-powered, walk-in cold room that provides retailers with storage facilities to preserve perishable products. John then enlisted the support of three business colleagues, and together they founded the company. Operating since 2017, FreshBox offers vendors and farmers refrigeration services for many of East Africa's most trafficked fruits and vegetables markets.

Where did you hear about the Nestlé Creating Shared Value Prize?

  • Social media

2 comments

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Photo of Old Friend

Hello My Mbindyo, I find your innovation interesting. But I am curious as to exactly how long these boxes increase the shelf life of produce. This idea also seems focused on the intermediate end of the value chain where the retailer meets the final consumer. While the retailer might be a able to keep produce longer wouldnt that create a back log of product for the transporters, wholesalers and producers?

Lastly how does this innovation affect the affordability of the produce in question across the harvest seasons?

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